Latino Resource Center director also attends ‚ÄėGame Changers‚Äô event
‚ÄúI fell in love with the nurses at Children‚Äôs Memorial. I admired their work,‚ÄĚ says Rodriguez, a sophomore nursing major from Chicago. ‚ÄúThere are some respectable nurses, and there are bad nurses, and I will become a respectable nurse. I love the way they work with their patients, and what I want to do is work with children.‚ÄĚ
That was the summer of 2011.
Last summer, Rodriguez again went to work ‚Äď to earn enough money to return to NIU.
‚ÄúThe thought of not being able to come back next year for financial reasons is always in the back of my head,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm trying really hard to find ways to pay for my school. I‚Äôm applying for scholarships. I apply for programs that provide any type of stipend.‚ÄĚ
Rodriguez, who is an honors student, is typical of many of her classmates.
- She studies hard and maintains a good GPA.
- She is highly involved on campus, including membership in the Latino Honor Society and serving as an officer for the NIU chapter of SACNAS: Advancing Hispanics/Chicanos & Native Americans in Science.
- She is a Huskie Research Rookie who took that process one step further and, as a freshman, presented at a conference in Seattle.
But some of her friends have dropped out of college because they could not afford the costs ‚Äď a problem across the state.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon invited Rodriguez and Latino Resource Center Director Emily Prieto to a Tuesday morning breakfast event at the Union League Club in Chicago, where the lieutenant governor released her report on the bleak situation many Illinois college students face.
Affordability is the ‚Äúmost significant barrier to students seeking degrees at public universities,‚ÄĚ Simon says.
Her ‚ÄúGame Changers‚ÄĚ report spotlights reforms, including the ‚Äúreverse transfer program‚ÄĚ NIU piloted last semester with Waubonsee Community College.
‚ÄúStudents who transfer from Waubonsee to NIU prior to receiving their associate degree can attain the degree retroactively, using credits earned at NIU,‚ÄĚ the report states. ‚ÄúCareful transcript examination results in agreement between the institutions that the students have actually earned the appropriate credits for the associate degree. In this way, students earn both credentials while completing the bachelor‚Äôs degree. NIU plans to extend this option to community college students across their region.‚ÄĚ
Simon also suggests targeted¬†income taxes waivers¬†for students who earn bachelor‚Äôs or advanced degrees and choose to live and work in Illinois post-graduation.
‚ÄúWe need to make sure that our high school students are ready for college and complete certificates and degrees on time and with less debt,‚ÄĚ said Simon, Gov. Pat Quinn‚Äôs point person on education reform. ‚ÄúThe return on educational investment is proven for graduates seeking living-wage jobs and a state seeking high-quality employers. College is worth it.‚ÄĚ
The report follows Simon‚Äôs fact-finding mission last fall, when she traveled to community colleges and all 12 public universities in Illinois for a first-hand look at the tuition challenges.
‚ÄúEvery semester, Noemi struggles to pay her tuition. She‚Äôs from the South Side of Chicago, Back of the Yards. Her family struggles greatly,‚ÄĚ says Prieto, who began mentoring Rodriguez when the sophomore was in junior high school. ‚ÄúNoemi‚Äôs done everything right, and the lieutenant governor was really moved by that. She met hundreds and hundreds of students, and something just special happened when she met Noemi. Their relationship is going to continue.‚ÄĚ
Simon has stayed in steady contact with Rodriguez since the November visit, Prieto adds.
‚ÄúI can‚Äôt tell you how much this means to Noemi. They‚Äôve bonded. Even today, she connected Noemi with Rush Hospital about internships there,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúLt. Gov. Simon is really trying to increase Noemi‚Äôs access to social capital, to move her that much closer to her academic and professional goals.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe lieutenant governor invited me for breakfast because she admired how dedicated, hard-working and committed I was to my education and my future, even though I have to work to pay for school,‚ÄĚ Rodriguez says. ‚ÄúThe lieutenant governor told me that she has very high expectations of me, of positively contributing and improving our nation‚Äôs health issues.‚ÄĚ
But Tuesday‚Äôs breakfast was about more than a reunion between politician and student. Its true purpose was to make an impact on the state‚Äôs power brokers.
Without an educated workforce, Simon says, Illinois will become unable to attract and retain employers that require highly skilled workers to fill current openings and sustain their future growth.
‚ÄúLt. Gov. Simon has a limited budget and not a big staff. But what she does have is a platform and access to people in power,‚ÄĚ Prieto says. ‚ÄúWhat I‚Äôm hoping ‚Äď and what I know she‚Äôs hoping ‚Äď to get out of these types of discussions is that other people will be called to action to rethink things they‚Äôre doing at their institutions or diversifying their resources to help students.‚ÄĚ